The fingerprint is a fundamental means of identification, both within a country and across borders. Fingerprints are traces of an impression from the friction ridges of any part of a human hand. These impressions are usually stored in criminal or civil databases: US Visit, for example, currently holds a repository of the fingerprints of over 50 million people who have visited the United States. Whereas fingerprinting can seem like a benign act that takes place on a small scale, the repercussions of fingerprinting on modern society are significant. As debates take place in many countries about the uses and abuses of biometric data, the automatic scanning and recording of human bodies in both the public and private sector has given rise to an unprecedented degree of state control over how humans interact with places and move across borders.
My project is a large-scale wall drawing created by sticking industrial strength duct tape directly onto a large white wall, in an indoor exhibition space. By enlarging and exhibiting my right thumbprint on a monumental scale, I aim to compel audiences to consider the implications of identifying and classifying people according to such images. I expose my thumbprint to the public, inviting others to photograph and manipulate my personal data in a work that combines installation and performance. The errors in representation that occur as the thumbprint is enlarged to a monumental scale and then shrunk down again as the work is photographed draw attention to the inaccuracy and the futility of tracking, identifying, classifying different groups of people according to the physical characteristics of their bodies.
Instead of painting directly on the wall or exhibiting a finished artwork on a canvas, my Fingerprint is a site-responsive image that temporarily takes over one part of the exhibition space. The image is developed with the support of a polyvinyl sheet, which is hidden behind duct tape. Extra layers of duct tape both hold the image itself in place and extend the fingerprint all over the surrounding wall space, taking advantage of, and dominating, the work’s site. Whereas tape is usually used to help painters create a straight edge, to hold two things together, or to seal off cracks or damage to an object, here this “temporary solution” is not an addition to the artwork, but the very medium used in the installation. The viewer, who may be present during the installation process, has the impression that the work was entirely designed and produced on site.
The work plays with the notion of packaging, taking a material that is sometimes used to retrieve fingerprints at a crime scene and transforming the medium into the image that it depicts. The fingerprint image was meticulously cut out and precisely fashioned in a manner at odds with the ubiquity and unremarkable nature of the duct tape used. This handing of the material asks the viewer to reassess what physical qualities we attribute value to and whether, for example, it is an error to believe bronze is more valuable than paper. The work also invites us to consider how scale can change perceptions of value and whether error and unpredictability are inherent to any form of communication and idea transmission.